How to meet your sustainability goals


Sustainability is more important than ever, so just by attempting to make your business more sustainable, you are already doing the right thing. Nonetheless, some companies are experiencing difficulties with meeting their targets because the goals that they have set may have been too ambitious – or not ambitious enough.

One study, carried out by Bain & Company, found that only 2% of companies had been meeting or surpassing their sustainability expectations. If you want your business to be more sustainable, but need to find achievable goals that are easier to commit to, read on.

Sustainability expectations amongst consumers

Consumers now have much greater expectations when it comes to sustainability. A huge number of today’s consumers expect the brands that they buy from to take steps to become more eco-friendly. By buying from companies with good environmental standards, customers can do the right thing for the planet and reduce their overall carbon footprints too. 

There is increasing optimism amongst the consumers of today that the brands they shop with are acting much more responsibly, prioritising sustainability over profitability –  or at least taking their environmental impacts much more seriously than they were in the past. 

What’s also exciting to see is that in recent years, many companies have been launched with climate awareness at the forefront of everything that they do.

How can I make my sustainability goals more realistic?

Your employees are more likely to get on board with your sustainability programme if they believe that it is a credible and believable one, but this doesn’t mean you need to avoid setting ambitious goals. 

If businesses are to truly inspire their employees and start attracting more of the best talent, their sustainability initiatives should go much further when it comes to targets. For instance, you could decide to become carbon negative by a certain point in time rather than simply reducing carbon emissions by a modest number. You may also aim to start using only recycled supplies within the next decade such as Pandasoft bamboo toilet roll which utilises plastic free packaging so it is reusable and 100% recyclable rather than simply using more recycled materials. 

Although the biggest goals can seem ambitious, they can go a long way to ensuring your green initiatives yield successful results. This doesn’t mean that you need to abandon your smaller goals, just don’t avoid setting particularly ambitious targets too.

Demonstrate the progress that you are making

If your team isn’t able to see how their efforts are paying off, they are likely to lose enthusiasm. By showing your team the progress you have been making every month or so, you can ensure they don’t lose focus. It’s easy to set inspiring goals, but it can be much harder to remain focused on them. 

This means each member of your team needs to know what their duties are and be provided with updates regularly to show your team how much progress you’re making so they can remain inspired and motivated.

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Choose the right goals for your business

Another way to ensure you are setting suitable goals for your business is to identify areas that you are most likely to be failing in. Many companies aim to cut down their use of plastic, become zero waste or reduce their carbon emissions. These are all great targets, but it’s necessary to think carefully about which of the environmental problems your business may be contributing to the most.

The nine boundaries

Environmental science professor Johan Rockström says humanity has now passed four of the nine boundaries that are keeping the world hospitable to modern life. 

A company making clothing manufactured with cotton and Tencel could decide they are having a negative impact not only on boundary #3 – which relates to polluting the ecosystem – due to emitting elements like phosphorus and nitrogen, but also boundary #8 too, which is freshwater use. 

You may be impacting the latter boundary because the crops you need to run your business need water and fertiliser. Companies that work in logistics and shipping may decide that they need to focus on boundary #1, which is climate change, and #7. This represents ocean acidification.

What is your biggest impact?

When you are deciding what your sustainability targets should be, put sufficient time aside so you can think hard about your major activities. You also need to separate your “upstream” and “downstream” activities. 

The former tend to be the things that happen when your supplies are being prepared for your customers, with your “downstream” activities including things that happen when you have already passed your products onto consumers. 

For instance, a fast-food restaurant may be concerned about the way their customers are disposing of packaging when they are looking at “downstream” activities related to their business activities.

Decide how you will measure your goals

You must identify a credible way of measuring your goals so you can see how well your sustainability strategy is faring. Many companies say they find it hard to measure their green activities, and this could be one of the main reasons for targets being missed so frequently. 

Measuring some activities can be easier than others. Some of the most straightforward things to measure may include plastic use, recycling and the number of materials you’re diverting from landfill. However, help is available, even if you need to source it from outside. 

Get external guidance if necessary

More and more companies are getting a deeper insight into their sustainability performance by asking consultants for assistance. You can also take many measures yourself, weighing the materials you are sending to landfill and recycling every week. 

There are many online tools that you can use that will help you find out how well you are faring, including carbon footprint calculators. Your local colleges and universities may even be able to assist you with measuring your sustainability endeavours.

Find out what the major local, national and international priorities are

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Many nations are now part of pacts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, plastic use, water use, pollution and so on. Make sure your sustainability targets are well aligned with what’s happening in the wider world. Try to ensure your targets exceed common goals if possible. 

If your business is based in an area where local businesses are being encouraged to reduce their carbon emissions by a specific amount, why not try to go a little further if possible? Aiming a little higher can encourage your team to do more without overwhelming them.

What kind of sustainability goals could I be setting?

No matter which industry you’re based in, there are many sustainability targets that you can aim for to make a better contribution to the world around you. Many of these can also help you enhance your reputation and profitability.

Common sustainability goals

Many businesses aim to reduce carbon emissions by a specific figure for each product they sell. You can also aim to go further by targeting carbon neutrality. You could even aim to make your product’s carbon negative. This means carbon is absorbed every time you sell a product. This would make it a carbon-negative one.

Reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals 

Why not take a close look at the products that you are using or selling to see if they contain hazardous chemicals that could be replaced with safer ones?

  • Green commutes: Aim to ensure a certain percentage of your employees are either cycling to work, working from home, using public transport or car-sharing. Some companies have even got 100% of their workforce commuting in a green manner or working from home.
  • Cut freshwater use: It’s increasingly common for companies to cut their use of freshwater by 90% or more.
  • 100% recycled: Could you ensure 100% of all the non-food materials that you’re using are recycled, with a minimum of 50% post-consumer waste?
  • Zero waste: This is an increasingly common target for companies from all sectors. Aim for 99% landfill diversion and a 90% decrease in upstream and downstream waste generation.

100% certified organic: Many companies are only sourcing completely organic, sustainably grown inputs, cutting out all nitrogen and phosphorus inputs.

  • Plastic and pollutant elimination: Aim to eliminate all materials that could become litter or be sent to landfill. This may include bioplastic and other materials which cannot biodegrade as well as heavy metals.


Reaching your sustainability targets doesn’t need to be as difficult as it may seem. There are many steps that you can take to ensure your business is making a much better contribution to the environment. Creating a sustainability programme doesn’t have to mean creating goals that you are unlikely to achieve. 

From aiming to recycle as much as possible to eliminating plastic from your operations and vastly reducing your use of freshwater, there are many options available to you if you are ready to become much more sustainable, improve your reputation and attract the most talented professionals in your field.

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